The ‘Law Of Diminishing Marginal Utility‘ is a law of economics stating that “as a person increases consumption of a product – while keeping consumption of other products constant – there is a decline in the marginal utility that person derives from consuming each additional unit of that product.”
Could there be a way to apply such a law to the economics related to the consumption of “Diversity?”
It appears so. (Watch this quick video for a definition.) For the moment, let’s call it the “Law of Diminishing Diversity Utility.” Are you hearing it more, and enjoying it less? Let’s talk about why that might be happening.
About 50 years ago, American businesses began tentatively nibbling at workforce “Diversity.” In fact, by 1987, the Hudson Institute Report, “Workforce 2000: Work and Workers for the 21st Century” admonished employers that if American business didn’t acquire a taste for an increasingly diverse workforce, there would be no one left for them to consume by the year 2050.
Enter uber consultant Dr. R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr., PhD and a deluge of “Diversity Consultants” and professionals who followed. They came with the Multicultural Cookbook of 101 corporate recipes for acquiring and preparing the cornucopia of workforce diversity spread before American businesses, ready to consume, andeager to be consumed.
Civil rights, desegregation, equal opportunity, affirmative action and equal pay legislation set the table by weakening Jim Crow and the “Good Old Boys Network” just enough for American businesses to shovel down a few good doses of entry level diversity. It wasn’t bad, actually.
But it wasn’t long before societal discomfort started the legislative belt-loosening process with the Bakke Decision (1978). By the early 1980s, President Ronald Reagan had eviscerated the enforcement capacity of the EEOC and OFCC, effectively eliminating the threatened bloating of workforce diversity at higher levels in business organizations. Reagan sent out the last call. They’d had enough, and were pushing away from the table. The differences buffet was officially closed.
But the social pressures continued, and “Multicultural Diversity” stuck as the low calorie version of workplace social engineering. As fast as the physical segregation, apartheid and sexism was being dismantled outside the workforce, the DIVersity Paradigm was busily (and profitably) rebuilding and reinforcing a new model, a mental scaffolding of segregation and apartheid in a place no government action could reach it or outlaw it…in the minds and hearts of global business organization employees.
It became painfully obvious to many by the late 1980s that the corporate “Diversity Paradigm” had been framed as a differences-based approach that mirrored the structure of social struggle outside, but it was portrayed as a design to bond people together…which seemed to make no sense at all to them.
Diversity starts with “div,” the prominent Latin root of the conjugation divido, dividere, divisi, divisus, with the primary meanings, to:
- separate, break up
Is that what anyone intended to do to the workforce? Diversity developed quickly into a mental and psychological morphology, a taxonomy of cultures, a system of classifications and categorizations that elevated cultural and ethnic differences to the dominant way we meet and treat others. That is what D&I Consultants have been and continue selling, and what psychologist and leadership guru Michael Maccoby referred to as “…a most primitive way of describing one another.”
“Diversity” Consultants and Professionals have, over the last five decades, imbued the workforce with a nearly indelible cultural segregation and apartheid around “differences” that purports to be based on intercultural dignity and respect. In reality it is more obviously driven by a census classification buffet that comprises the framework for separating people into broad, relatively meaningless categories beyond those for compliance purposes.
Gender. Generations. Ethnicity. Skin Color. Religion. Class. Nationality. Language. Sexual Preference. D&I digs up new groups and subgroups each year. No fewer than eight major generational labels, 13 disability categories in one single sector, the surge in gender identity diversity at first capturing merely a full quarter of the alphabet (LGBTQIA) with no signs of slowing, at this point having grown toLGBPTTQQIIAA+.
Despite an end to physical segregation decades ago, employers have somehow been convinced of the utility of socially resegregating employees into differences-based Employee Resource Groups (ERG) to help them navigate or circumnavigatethe challenges of the workplace. And in fact, according to researchers, workplace segregation is on the rise as corporate America clears its diversity plates andscrapes off all of the “diversity” gains of the last century.
None of those categories, either separately or collectively, tell employers much of value about a person’s true ability to do a given job. And yet, businesses worldwide have been convinced that adopting and promoting these “differences” is the basis for somehow creating value. Why?
“…many corporations have been doing more than ever. Yet all of this activity still occurs in an evidentiary vacuum. The workplace has become markedly more diverse since the early 1960s, but how much of that is due to the particular programs that the human resources profession promulgated? We have little hard evidence that employer programs increase opportunity. When companies choose new diversity programs, they rely on “best practices” lists rather than on research findings. Perhaps that is not altogether by chance, for following “best practices” has often protected firms in court. If what matters is protecting yourself in court, and if the courts accept the argument that the defendant is doing what everyone else is doing, then the ultimate irony of the history of equal opportunity is that compliance is a self- fulfilling prophecy.” *
With workplace intercultural tensions unabated, “diversity” is at an all time high in the workforce. But sociocultural issues are overwhelmingly coming to bear on making the workplace an increasingly draining challenge for those who are “different” and whose differences require some incremental “business case” for being allowed in, and for those who walk on the eggshells of the diversities that now seem to have engulfed them.
The D&I industry, continues working under the auspices of HR through the process of dividing us to death, interculturally, far beyond the point of mere “Diversity Fatigue” introduced over a decade ago. This “fatigue” may be where the Law of Diminishing Returns or Marginal Utility best applies to the D&I Industry. Having no other alternative for addressing diversity fatigue, Diversity proponents begin speaking in tongues, a kind of double-speak and doubling down on the concept that is draining the life out of human individuality.
Is it too late? Have Diversity Consultants and internal Diversity Professionals permanently cemented a culturally exploitative differences-based view of our coworkers into corporate life and the employee psyche? Can businesses remain cohesive and profitable, attract talent for its own sake, while at the same time generating internal social activism, entrenching internal corporate cultural fragmentation that mirrors outside sociopolitical activism, and embedding the related intercultural conflict throughout business processes?
A half-century of “Diversity Training” and related thinking has demonstrated that it changes methods, not behavior. It changes processes, not outcomes. It may be by the highly credible and expert testimony of D&I leaders themselves that we can say that the mid-20th Century “Diversity Consulting” approach has been delightful fun, but it simply hasn’t worked to produce equity or equality.
Or is it time that we more aggressively challenge the 50-year old DIVersity Paradigm by asking, “At what point do we all stop telling each other how different we are?” Is there another way? Are there viable alternatives to differences-based conflict-driven cultural interaction inside business organizations?
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